Monday, November 23, 2009

A Meaningful and Memorable Spiff for Meeting a Radio Advertising Sales Goal

The Friday Poll question at Radio Sales Café last week was: "What is the most meaningful or memorable spiff you've ever received as a salesperson? What did you do to earn it?"

The question brought back vivid memories of a formative period in my professional life, and I felt compelled to take time to answer the question in some detail. Here is my reply:

Hands-down, the most meaningful and memorable spiff I ever received took place over three decades ago.

It was sometime during the autumn of 1976. Around the conference table where we held our weekly sales meetings sat all the salespeople, general manager Len, owner Jerry, and sales trainer Jim Williams, with whom we'd just completed an intensive day or two of training.

Jim turned to Jerry and said, "Did you bring it?" Jerry nodded, reached into a pocket, pulled out an envelope and extracted from it a $1000 bill. Jim asked him to pass it to the person next to him, and so forth, stressing that each individual at the table should spend a few moments handling (he may have said "fondling") the unusual bill. I'd never seen one before, and I'm sure there was a silly smile on my face as I examined the bill with President Grover Cleveland's image on it.

Amidst the ooohs and ahhhs, Jim said: "Sell one 'standard month' in the next 60 days and this is yours."

I no longer recall whether a standard month was $5000 or $10,000 run within a 30-day period by a single client. (Do any other RSC members familiar with Williams remember which it was?) But in either case, that kind of sale to a single client represented a ton of money for a station in a town of 26,000 back in 1976. It had never been done before at our stations.

At the time, I was calling on the local Pamida/Gibson discount store and had them on the air using primarily coop dollars. My practice was to call the coop manager at their headquarters in Omaha to find out if they had funds for, say, Black & Decker, Hamilton Beach, West Bend, Skil tools, and so forth. I had learned that many, perhaps most of the stores in the chain were not using the radio coop dollars they'd accrued, so if I went "overboard" on occasion, the funds were typically there to cover the local store's excesses.

Since the holiday season was approaching and most radio coop funds expired at the end of the calendar year, I seized upon what seemed a natural opportunity. I went to the local manager with an ambitious proposal for the months of November and December, easily equal to two of Williams' "standard months." He agreed to sign the proposal on the condition that I secure home office approval for the excessive coop funds. I called my contact at headquarters in Omaha, he said the funds were available. (He also asked me to "go easy." I failed to ask him what that meant.)

So, Gibson's became by far and away the dominant advertiser on the stations those two months, filling the airwaves with exciting reminders to buy electric drills and jigsaws, blenders and crock pots, and all manner of name-brand gifts for Christmas...and I earned two spiffs, one for each of the "standard months." The combination of those spiffs, my regular commission, and a nice tax refund the following spring, enabled me to make the down payment on my first house in April 1977. We moved in just a few days before the birth of our second child.

I wish I could say that the experience was 100% positive, but in truth it was not. My expectation, based on the words that came out of Jim Williams' mouth and seemingly confirmed by my employer, was that the bonus would be a $1000 bill, just like the one we passed around the room. When the time came though, I was paid by check...with the standard withholding and SS deductions taken from the amount of the bonus. As much as I hate to admit it, this was something of a letdown. (Yes, I realize this sounds like niggling.) I'd understood the bonus to be that $1000 bill we passed around; that's what I was expecting!

Now, under the circumstances I didn't complain, of course. In fact, until this moment, only my dear wife has been aware of my disappointment. But I mention it now only because it taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of fulfilling the implicit terms of an agreement, and striving to meet (if not exceed) the legitimate expectations of others grounded in a commitment I've made to them.

So, I am grateful both for the bonus and for the lessons that came with it. And there it is...meaningful and memorable, thirty-three years later!

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